For this lockdown Nike Air Max Day we wanted to throwback to our store takeover with Nike in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Nike Air Max 95.
The Origins of Nike Air Max Day
So why is this shoe so important that it’s recognised in its own international day? The original Nike Air Max, created by designer Tinker Hatfield, is considered a piece of art that had monumental cultural impact. The original design brought together many cultural influences in art and music that were shifting to more street-based at the time in the 1980s, while also taking inspiration from the inside-out design of Parisian art gallery Le Centres George Pompidou.
The shoe wasn’t just about looking incredible, blending pop culture and artistry, it also relied on science, with the air-bag innovation originally being pitched to Nike by an aerospace engineer named Frank Rudy. In this way, Nike was a pioneer in bringing together the previously very separate spaces of street culture, high culture and science.
And while this fusion of influences and focus on bold design might be familiar to us today, at the time it was a risk to offer this kind of style outside the mainstream. In fact, the bold creativity we enjoy today can be traced back to brands like Nike setting the foundations to keep pushing boundaries and never be complacent – an ethos we endeavour to incorporate in everything we do at Impact too.
20 Years of Nike Air Max 95
Like its predecessor Air Max variations, the Air Max 95 broke tradition in its unexpected design. By its anniversary, it had been embraced by youth, fashion and music across the globe for 20 years. The original Air Max 95 was designed by Nike footwear designer, Sergio Lozano, who at the time was given free reign and his goal, in true Air Max style, was to ‘do something we’ve never seen before’.
With an original Neon colourway that helped establish the bold colours of the 90s, this striking shoe was designed taking inspiration from the power of human anatomy, with lacing inspired by ribs, a spine-like outsole, and a mesh and suede upper mimicking muscle fibres. The design was also the first Air Max to feature air cushions on both the heel and the forefoot, to mould to the foot, which ‘changed the DNA of both the running category and sneaker culture’.
To celebrate this anniversary of the shoe and all its many different version across the years, we were tasked by Nike and their creative partners Rosie Lee with taking over the size? Carnaby Street and Neal Street stores in London.
We were challenged to craft an experience in line with the bold, artistic and scientific history of this globally acclaimed shoe, known for its street-style and pushing the boundaries of design with scientific influence. The stores were to be completely revamped with Nike’s ‘The Anatomy of Air Exhibition’ combining the focus on anatomy in the Air Max 95 design and use of air in its science for cushioning and breathability.
The objective of these experiences was to hero the Air Max 95 story and build excitement and intrigue around the brand new ‘Ultra Jacquard’ Air Max design launched for the anniversary.
In the Neal Street store we undertook a complete pop-up takeover of windows and instore design including displays, doors, stairs and floors. The Anatomy of Air Exhibition was to bring together the themes of art, science and anatomy for an incredible and menacing laboratory experience.
A core display included a mini museum of the top 20 Air Max 95 shoes from the previous 20 years, an impressive sight where each shoe was suspended in a captioned bell jar and some models being worth up to an astounding £30K. The display illustrated to customers the shoe’s long history and scale of evolutions that continued to innovate and push boundaries.
Elsewhere, ‘The Anatomy of Air’ was illustrated with a lightbox display presenting the themes of anatomy and air in the shoes and introduce the Ultra Jacquard design. Styled in the shape of lungs, this display intermixed the modern and the classic, with screens showing scientific animations, heritage imagery, more bell jars with new shoe designs and lightboxes with neon x-rays of lungs.
On both these walls short educational pieces were included for customers looking to learn more on the exhibition and Air Max 95 story. The story continued throughout the store across windows, display tables, doors, stairways, and takeaway pieces to really immerse the customer in the pop-up experience.
At Carnaby Street the same themes and style were used across the store’s central column. Customers were greeted on entry with a dramatic display wall dominated by the Ultra Jacquard design fused with anatomy. In this display, human ribs were constructed from black metal with the shoes placed within to mimic the lungs. The rib construction was illuminated with neon blue lights for that eery laboratory feel and contained within a glass case for the effect of it being safely contained for observation.
Similarly ‘The Anatomy of Air’ concept was displayed across another side of the core column walls, focusing on the innovation of the Ultra Jacquard. A modern museum-style glass cabinet featured similar neon iconography to Neal Street with laboratory bell jars, light box x-ray imagery, beakers filled with neon liquid and the air cushion technology used within the shoes.
On the opposite side of the column, more cabinets filled with curiosities, anatomy and shoe references were to be found focusing this time of the story of the original Air Max 95. The feel for this side was more heritage with wooden-effect shelves, heritage drawings and classic scientific tools to fit with the original, classic shoe.
The Anatomy of Success
This was an incredible and hugely successful project: the 20th anniversary was widely celebrated, with the Neal Street and Carnaby Street stores being an outstanding success for the brand and the final displays being praised by both Rosie Lee and the Nike team. The Ultra Jacquard sold out so quickly we had to reattend the stores two days after launch to remove the shoe from the displays! We are so thrilled that we have been able to continue to work with Nike and Rosie Lee on projects and many other Nike Air Max Day activations, but this has to be one of our favourites!